Sunday, March 14, 2010

Everything Changes

Because dynamite can't be used to demolish a building in New York City, the old Yankee Stadium, "the house that Babe Ruth built" is coming down slowly but surely. Despite the vaunted reputation of this baseball stadium it has already been replaced at a nearby location. Once the site has been cleared it will be home to several ball fields for community use, and walking paths.

I have no doubt purists have lamented the destruction of this iconic facility but tends to be the way for old buildings. The venerable Maple Leaf Gardens gave way to the Air Canada Centre and is now being converted into a multiple-use facility. The world will go on.

I wish we could take a similar approach with our church buildings. Not all of them, of course. Some are examples of exceptional architecture from a period and should be preserved. But many are fairly generic and meant to be utilitarian. They may be dedicated to the service of God, but when circumstances change then they can actually be a millstone around a struggling congregation's neck. There are congregations in Oshawa Presbytery that are in the process of disbanding and the properties will be sold. I wish that we could be farsighted enough to consider the amalgamations and re-configurations necessary to create vital congregations rather than waiting out a slow and often sad death.

How do you feel? Are you tied to particular bricks and mortar? Would you be comfortable worshipping in a space that didn't look like a traditional church? Do we need to be bold in initiating the necessary conversations between congregations?


IanD said...

Churches and older schools can both be hit by changing times, and communities always shudder when the shutters come out. What comes next for many of these buildings can be a major source of stress for many.

I have seen, all across Ontario, 19th century superstructures converted to tasteful residences. Maybe this is the best way to go?

Susan said...

Over my lifetime, I have been a member and worshipped at 6 different churches (Tyrone, Northminster in Oshawa, Hertiage United in Brantford, St. Paul St. in St. Catharines, and St. Mark's and Westminster in Whitby). I am not tied to bricks and mortar, even though my maternal great-grandparents and maternal grandparents were all actively involved in raising and building new churches. In both Brantford and St. Catharines, when I first moved to the area, there was an United Church for every 10,000 people (Brantford had 8 and St. Catharines had 13). Way too many churches and many of those churches were struggling with finding the money to pay the bills and meaningful ministry as many of the churches had cut back ministry staff to 1/2 or 1/4 time. I remember a few years reading that one of the (five) churches in downtown Brantford had burned down and was heartbroken for the congregation's loss but excited by the possiblity of new ministry - new teaming. They rebuilt the originial church - hopefully they have new and exciting ministry within the structure. In the last ten years in St. Catharines, of the 13, there are now only 6 churches, 5 joined into 2, 2 closed down, and 4 struggle to stay afloat.
I think it is very difficult for people to think of closing their church building if they grew up in the church and have never been members at another congregation. It's like getting rid of a treasured family heirloom. And especially if generations of family members poured their blood, sweat, tears, and money into the ministry of that particular congregation. And yet, these older buildings are crippling the congregation and their ministry. Presently, I am worshipping in a church that is less than 10 years old and I am thoroughly enjoying it and leaders within the congregation and Presbytery need to be bold to start those initiating talks between congregations. It's not going to be easy but if a church can not pay its bills or is employing less than a halftime minister - what is their purpose and what is their minstry?

lionlamb said...

Thanks for these responses. I too, Ian, have seen church structures converted to country homes, businesses (there are two former churches on Church St. Bowmanville,) condos in city downtowns.

And I too, Susan, have served pastoral charges where signficant changes have happened. The five-point charge I served in Newfoundland is now three points. The church as a living entity needs to respond to circumstances.